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2012 Study Finds Some Evidence for Corn Cross-Reactivity in Celiac


Updated June 04, 2014

2012 Study Finds Some Evidence for Corn Cross-Reactivity in Celiac


Although this study came out a year ago, I'm constantly being asked about it and what it might mean for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity who also can't tolerate corn. So I think it's worth repeating the details of what it showed (and didn't show):

There's no question that many people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity also have issues with corn.

Some of the problem likely involves gluten cross-contamination in the corn (like all other grains, corn can be quite gluten-contaminated unless the growers and processors take specific steps to protect their crop from accidental contact with gluten).

However, a 2012 research study indicates that the immune systems of people with celiac disease may in fact react to corn in a way that's similar to how they react to gluten.

The study, published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, looked at the amino acid sequences in corn and compared them to the sequences found in gluten molecule. The researchers found some similarities between the amino acid sequences in the two different grains.

Next, they performed a computer analysis to see if the corn amino acid sequences might bind to the IgA antibodies produced by the body when gluten is ingested. They found evidence that this might happen in people who carry either of the two "celiac disease genes," HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8.

This finding "may be of paramount clinical relevance," the authors concluded. "The use of maize [corn] in the formulation and preparation of gluten-free foods must be re-evaluated in some cases of celiac disease."

So does this mean that people with celiac disease should avoid corn as well as gluten grains? That's not clear -- the study itself is extremely preliminary and hasn't yet been duplicated by other researchers. But it definitely shows that it's at least possible (as many people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have reported) to have a glutening-type reaction to corn.

However, if you already know you react to corn as well as to wheat, barley and rye, this study certainly gives you another reason to avoid it.

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - @AboutCeliac.

Photo © Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

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